Spend enough time in China, and you start to realize what tea is to China, is much like what wine is to the west. The holiday visits to the fields and grounds, the hours spent sipping and tasting, and the endless talks about the history (of the plant) and subtle aftertaste, the colorful descriptions only meant for the connoisseurs. How deep can tea be? You might ask. The more I learn, the deeper it does get, and good tea is, how should I say, really good!
Tea comes in many types. Here are some main types of teas in China, and a very brief description of each.
Green tea(绿茶), comes in many varieties, but is mainly unfermented tea, that when brewed, gives a green tint to the drink. Green tea is most valued new, so in spring time, all the different teas are labeled according to the date they were picked, so you can choose the tea that is the freshness of your liking. My favorite type of green tea is Tie Guan Yin(铁观音) tea, which gives off a very floral aroma and is not bitter at all, if done correctly. There is also Bi Luo Chun （碧螺春）, Long Jing (龙井) and many more, mostly dependent on the region where the tea leaves come from. Green tea should be brewed in lower temperature water, and a shorter period of time. The leaves cannot be reused more than 2-3 brews. Many locals have informed us that green tea has an anti-inflammatory property, so when you start coughing, just drink green tea! Some even claim if you smoke, and drink green tea, the health hazards of smoking is cancelled out by the green tea. I beg to disagree on this one.
Pú er tea（普洱茶）, named after the region the tea comes from in the Yunnan province, are made from tea tree leaves in the region, and comes in unfermented and fermented form. The fermented type of Pú er tea increases in value as they get older, just like red wine. The value of the tea is also determined by the age of the tree the leaves come from. Young trees, or bushes cannot produce the rich, smooth and sweet flavors of an expensive Pú er tea. Also, Pú er tea advocates claim that since the leaves come from very old trees, some almost 1000 years old, it is guaranteed not to have any pesticides, because the trees will die when they come into contact with chemicals. The fermented type of Pú er tea does not contain much caffeine, so you can keep drinking without feeling the caffeine buzz. They usually come in “tea cake” form, which then you can use a knife to peel off a thin layer. Pú er tea can be brewed up to 10 times, the color actually deepens to a golden brown color. How can I describe the taste of Puer tea? Well, the unfermented kind tastes and looks like honey to me. Light gold color, and has a slightly sweet, honey like taste. The fermented kind has a very earthy flavor, almost like being near a barn. But don’t take my word for it, give it a try for yourself and let us know how you like it!
Just a little anecdote, we went to a region where these tea trees grow and are harvested. Since we are in the heart of all the tea trade, we thought we could get a good deal for good quality tea! Well, we proved ourselves complete amateurs. We walked up to a truck full of bags and bags of tea leaves. Bought huge bags of tea leaves, 3 different types. When we tried them, they were really horrible, just not worthy of using up our precious drinking water… So my suggestion is, always go to a tea salon, taste the teas and learn about them before you buy the tea cakes.
Black tea（红茶）, also called red tea due to the direct translation from Chinese. I honestly did not realize black tea was so common in China. High quality black tea sold in China is rich and smooth, just like high quality tea from India. I have yet to try the black tea from China with hot milk, just because it seems wrong to do that. Many of my Chinese friends prefer to have black tea after meals, they say it feels more comfortable to drink black tea after a heavy meal. I am not one to disagree to that.
I am not going to pretend to know all there is to know about tea, and this is just within my experience in China. I can say this much, that sitting at a beautiful wooden table with a little tea cup in front of you, sipping tea while you listen to the philosophy behind each cup of tea, is an experience worth having. Time seems to slow down when your host starts to pour you a fresh cup of tea, and that is the art of tea. Keep healthy, and enjoy life. - Yumi Zaic
Unicultural team and trainers, sharing our views and experiences on everything cultural.